I just rented and watched Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja on Amazon.com. I’d highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in a good story.
Square Grouper (click here for the official website) has three different stories to tell: the DEA/FBI frame-up of “The Black Tuna Gang,” the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, and Everglades City.
Everglades City, a quiet fishing town on the coast in Florida, turned to marijuana smuggling after the National Park Service phased out commercial fishing in the area. These average Americans, long accustomed to fishing, became the subject of an intense DEA investigation that resulted in the arrests of 80% of the town’s male population.
L.B. Turner, Everglades resident at the time, had this to say about the National Park Service: “Every time they figured out that we could make a living doing something, they put regulations on it.” While the NPS had promised that commercial fishermen would not lose their livelihood, that promise ended up being broken. The men who turned to smuggling marijuana for a living aren’t the kind of people you were warned about in D.A.R.E…they’re your next door neighbors!
The Black Tuna Gang was an infuriating tale of corruption, frame-ups, and media bias. Robert Platshorn, the longest-serving non-violent marijuana “criminal” to date, was the scapegoat of the failed Operation Banco, the first joint FBI/DEA operation in US history. The IRS and Customs investigated Operation Banco due to it’s high cost to taxpayers with little to no results. The DEA and FBI, needing results, set up “The Black Tuna Gang” and utilized “…a campaign that showcased many tactics the drug warriors would hone and expand over the next twenty-five years: sleazy paid informants, so-called expert witnesses, selective prosecution, inflated statistics…” (High Times February 2005) and more.
During the movie, Platshorn explained why he jumped into smuggling. “I honestly thought pot was going to be legalized. That we were only a few years away.” Platshorn saw a closing window of opportunity to make money, and ended up in way hotter water than he ever expected. At the time of his arrest, the average sentence was roughly 3 to 7 years; Platshorn was sentenced to 64 years. Watch the movie for the whole story…it’s the best of the three in my opinion.
Finally, The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, a Rastafari sect from Jamaica that stirred up controversy in Florida in the late 70’s, highlighted the religious use of marijuana. The Church gained lots of media attention during their operation on Star Island, including a 1979 CBS News special titled “Holy Smoke” by Dan Rather. See the archived CBS News special here.
Here’s a couple memorable quotes from Brother Louv of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church:
“The young people do not support the system that the old people have asked us to inherit. It is corrupt. But by making millions of people criminals, they have destroyed the credibility of the youth, and the American system.”
“I know that men made drugs and I know that God made herbs. So if their judgment in there is that marijuana is a drug, then put me in the jail with all the drug addicts, put me in the jail with all the criminals, and I’ll sit there and laugh at you. And I know there’s probably ganja being burned in there also.”
Square Grouper was really quite interesting. The story telling was original, and the real-life smuggling stories told by the men of Everglades City were cynically humorous. Seeing a city councilman discuss the economic benefits that marijuana brought the struggling and neighborly town isn’t something you see everyday. The heartbreaking set up of the Black Tuna Gang shows the impact the War on Drugs has had on individuals and families. And the courage of Brother Louv, speaking against the corruption of the War on Drugs, which entraps and harms patients, lawyers, doctors, sports stars, college students…families, neighbors, friends…is an inspiring call to action. I highly encourage everyone to watch “Square Grouper,” and get a glimpse at some stories from the War on Liberty that you won’t be seeing on TV anytime soon.